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Best Practice for Communicating with Customers by Email


The way we are using the telephone is changing, and that is causing lots of debate in terms of how companies engage with customers.

With email, self service, and other digital ways of communicating, it may mean that you actually don’t speak to your customer. That might be easier in a lot of ways, BUT is it forcing you down the route of being seen as a commodity, because the relationship doesn’t exist in the same way it did before?

Home working, use of mobile phones rather than landlines, meetings and time blocking for productivity is changing the way we use the phone at work.

In fact, have you noticed you rarely just call someone anymore?

I was in a service station recently – you know the one that wins all the awards and has a farm shop.

As I was queuing to pay a phone rang, one of the staff asked a colleague walking across the floor to answer the phone.

His response was “Why?”

A bit of incredulity including from some of this team members, but it shows the changing relationship that we have with the phone. People prioritise the person in front of them, while I was always taught that you answer the ringing phone first.

These changes means that businesses are grappling with ways to communicate with their customers and their colleagues. We now have so many ways to communicate email, texts, WhatsApp, Teams Channels, Slack Channels, Project Management Boards means that we need to be really clear in what should be used for what.

For those of us customer facing, the etiquette around the telephone is changing and that affects how we do business with our customers.

If customers contact you by email, we respond by email BUT there are times when you could help the customer more quickly and effectively by speaking
with them.

Would you pick up the phone? Do your colleagues pick up the phone?

People ignore the telephone now. It’s not just OK to do that, sadly, it’s the norm.

phone v email

Unless we step out of this, we can end up playing email tennis, and more time, energy and resource is sucked into answering customer queries than is needed.

Just think about it…

A customer used to telephone in with an enquiry, we would speak with them, answer all their questions, make sure we had all the answers we needed and then we would be able to quote. That task was finished (well apart from winning the business). In some cases you could secure the order there are then.

Now a customer emails in, we need some more information so we email back. They’ve gone into a meeting and don’t reply until the end of the day. They answer the query but you don’t have all the info you really need, do you make a few guesses and send the quote based on your experience, or do you send another email that is unlikely to be answered until tomorrow? And there we have it, the start of several tasks floating around on email trails which can take longer to complete. Multitasking and juggling which we know isn’t an efficient way of working.

But emails are convenient, we can come back to us at our leisure rather than having to spend ages waiting on the telephone. For the customer we can fire off several at the same time and choose based on the cheapest.

But things can be missed. In 2022 Litmus found people spend just 9 seconds on average looking at an email. 30% of emails on average are looked at for less than 2 seconds, 41% for between 2 and 8 seconds, and only 29% for more than eight seconds. For sales emails that’s even more brutal.

And if people don’t read back the whole email trail then things get missed or repeated which customers hate, especially if it is a request for info already sent. That destroys trust.

Business leaders are wrestling with how they communicate with
their customers.

It has changed.

Whereas before you might have responded to an incoming call, now you may need to pick up the telephone and call your customers. Instead of being masters of the inbound call, customer facing people need to have the skills and confidence to make an outbound call. And they may need permission to do that.

Text first
A norm that has developed is the need to text first, to get permission for the call and the time to call, so this is something that is worth considering. This has to be better than trying to sort something out by a long and convoluted email trail. Your inbound sales operations may need to organise a call, or send a Teams meeting invitation to respond. Of course, as the relationship builds we know those customers we can pick up the telephone to and speak to, and those we need to organise a time to call.

Voices connect us
There is research from the University of Texas that shows phone calls create stronger bonds then text based comms. So how many conversations are your people having with customers? Is it enough?

How we communicate is changing and changing quickly, but the need for connection is as strong as ever. As businesses start to struggle with growth, customer retention will be a focus of attention. The conversations you have with you customers can help with that.


email photo

Moving from traditional phone based conversations to a mostly email-based
one, can shift the dynamics of customer relationships, particularly if the focus
is increasingly on price alone.

The shift to email-based interactions can be especially challenging in
industries where personal relationships and trust have traditionally played
a significant role.

Here is some best practice in the age of email based enquiries:

Understand the customer

Quick Response: A prompt response can show your customers that you are attentive and interested in their business: there’s more and more evidence to show speed matters. What’s your average answer time from enquiry to response / quote?
In their world: Step into their world, the problems they face and how you help them.

Leverage Existing Relationships and Offer Value

Acknowledge: Thank the customer for the enquiry.
Leverage History: Remind customers of your successful past collaborations.

Make the Connection

Personalise: Use the customer’s name and refer to any previous interactions, if applicable. Build the relationship, tailor as much as you can to them – be human, there is a human being at the end of the email.
Call-to-Action: Tell the customer the next steps they need to take to secure their order.

Stand Out from the Competition

Value Proposition: Instead of diving straight into the price, explain why your product or service offers better value.
Social Proof: Include customer testimonials, certifications and accolades you may have.
Expertise & credibility: Demonstrate your industry knowledge and how you can solve the customer’s problem better than anyone else.

Provide clear and specific information

Skimmable Format: Busy people prefer emails that get to the point. Use bullet points, headers, and bold text for important information.
Easy to understand: Provide a clear quote but also outline the additional value you offer.
Options: Give them more than one option, so they feel in control of the decision.
Detail Availability: Make sure to specify availability and lead times for the requested equipment or products.
Safety and Compliance: Briefly mention that all equipment meets industry safety and compliance standards.

Think about the Look and Feel of what you send

PDF Attachments: A well-formatted PDF quote can give the customer something tangible to consider and can stand out among plain text emails.
Images & Specifications: Including pictures and specs of the equipment/ products can provide immediate clarity, and save problems later on.

Make It Easy To Say Yes

Simple Next Steps: Clearly outline how they can go ahead with the quote.
Direct Contact: Offer a direct line of communication for any immediate queries or confirmations.

Build the Relationship, offer a dialogue

Follow-up: Let them know you will be in touch to discuss the quote.
Phone Follow-Up: Discuss their needs in a short phone call, making it easier to shift the discussion from price to value, and showing that you care and want to get it right for them.
Multiple Contacts: Provide multiple ways for them to reach you (phone, social media, etc.), reinforcing the notion that you’re readily available.